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CENCOS and ARTICLE 19 urge protection for journalists in Veracruz state following attempted murder, threats

(ARTICLE 19/CENCOS/IFEX) - In an interview with Octavio Soto Torres, the founder-director of the weekly "Voces de Veracruz", ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS obtained additional information on the 23 January 2008 attempted assassination of which the journalist was the victim.

The attack took place when Soto Torres was driving through a remote area on his way to cover a highway accident on the Pánuco-El Molino highway. He noticed that a truck with tinted windows and Kentucky license plates was following him. The truck eventually cut him off and three masked persons bearing arms got out and tried to force him to stop. The journalist drove directly at two of his assailants and carried on, until he was forced to stop when the tires of his vehicle were shot out. At that point, he and his 16-year-old son fled the vehicle and escaped into the bushes on the roadside.

Soto Torres believes that the attack was in response to an article published in his newspaper on 20 January, in which he revealed the terms of an agreement between the leaders of a sugarcane growers' organisation - the Asociación de Cañeros CNPR-UNE of the Ingenio Fagsa A.C. sugarmill - and the company Integral Agropecuario S.A. de C.V. NPR. The leaders of the sugarcane growers' association had agreed to take out a debt of 2.5 million pesos (approx. US$230,000), to be repaid with interest, without consulting the farmers belonging to the association, who would ultimately finance the debt. The secret agreement was made, moreover, precisely at a moment when the leaders of the association were seeking re-election.

After the attack, Soto Torres registered a complaint with the Public Ministry, and was assured that the sub-prosecutor for northern Veracruz, as well as the state commission for the defense of journalists, would investigate his case. The state authorities also promised their full support; nonetheless, no progress has been made.

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS urge the authorities to take the following actions:

- That the State Prosecutor for Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave ensure that Soto Torres and his family are adequately protected, since they fear for their safety

- That the state commission for the defense of journalists pursue the case until they identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of the attack.

Considering the attack on Soto Torres, as well as the threats received by journalists José Luis Gracia Sánchez, columnist for "Atisbando de Voces de Veracruz", and Aristeo Abundis Hernández, director of the weekly "Semanario Frente y Vuelta", ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS urge the mayor of Pánuco, Veracruz, Guillermo Díaz Gea, to fulfill his duty to safeguard press freedom and free expression in the municipality he serves. ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS also urge Fidel Herrera Beltrán, the governor of the state of Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave, to take every measure required to ensure the safety of journalists and media outlets in his state.

Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social

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